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Student Story: Sofie Layton, MRes RCA: Fine Art & Humanities

Sofie Layton
Sofie Layton
Sofie Layton came to study MRes RCA: Fine Art & Humanities having practised as a socially-engaged artist for 25 years. Sofie has worked with institutions such as Historic Royal Palaces, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and plans to continue her research into how artists can explore and facilitate conversations around disease within a medical environment.

What were you doing before you started studying at the RCA?

I'm a socially-engaged artist, and I’ve been practising for the last twenty-five years. I felt that it was important for me to draw back and look at my practice within an art institution. I was interested in exploring the discourse around my work, but for myself. Being here gives me an opportunity to explore metaphor. That’s one of my research questions: how does metaphor inform the medical landscape?

When did you first hear about the RCA, and why did you decide to study here?

What appealed to me about the College is that it has a very clear arts focus, but it also sits within industry, fashion and architecture. I love the interdisciplinarity and the possibility of having conversations in different ways. It’s not just an art school. Its relevance to society and the wider world felt important.

Can you describe what it’s like studying at the RCA?

It’s incredibly multi-faceted. The seminar programme is extraordinary. I’ve been introduced to such different ways of writing and analysing art forms. You can go to any lecture you want, which is exciting, but it’s almost too much. From a making point of view, there’s an amazing wealth of technicians and expertise. The facilities are incredible. The biggest challenge is not to become simply a skills tourist; because our Programme is research-based, you have to ask whether this will help unpick something.

What's the mix of students like, and what are the benefits of being in an international community?

One of my anxieties, before I started, was how was I going to fit into a college setting as a mature student, but there’s an incredible mutual respect and we learn so much from each other. The Programme is diverse and very agile; it’s exciting. It creates such interesting perspectives on things. It makes you question everything, all your assumed truths and even your language.

What have you found to be the main differences between your expectation of studying at the RCA and the reality?

I didn’t expect it to be as rich as it is. I didn’t fully appreciate what the RCA could give me. I had a sense that it would be useful, but it’s so much more than that. It’s really exciting to be in a space where you feel challenged, where you feel unearthed. It’s been important to allow myself to feel uncomfortable and open and a bit vulnerable, but also to be supported.

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

It’s been the intellectual environment and being introduced to this extraordinary body of thinkers that are exploring the world in very different ways. Also, the facilities and the technicians are brilliant.

Have you faced any particular challenges while you have been here?

Coming in, I knew I was dyslexic but I hadn’t been properly tested. I was encouraged to have a dyslexia test here and now I’m on the path of getting support. It’s been a challenge but it’s also been very positive. It’s illuminated why I’ve found certain things very difficult. The RCA has been brilliant in looking at strategies for helping.

A transparent bud inside a bell jar
The Bud, Sofie Layton

What are your plans for this year, and what do you intend to do after you graduate?

I want to continue to develop my research question with a view to doing a PhD. I’m particularly interested in end of life, which is an incredibly complicated subject, particularly in medicine. How can we use the medical image to tell a story which isn’t entirely medical? That’s what I’m really interested in unpicking.

Do you have any advice for students applying?

If you’re a mature student, you absolutely shouldn’t be put off. I would say do it! It’s an incredibly useful way of thinking about your practice and moving your work on. This Programme gives you such a great platform for your practice.